Key events in 1963, from organized protests in Alabama to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, galvanized the civil rights movement that eventually toppled Jim Crow laws in the South. The 50th anniversary of those events is a great time to visit sites pivotal to the end of Southern segregation and that reflect on key events in African-American history.
The capital of Alabama was officially incorporated in 1819. Once the capital of the Confederate States of America (prior to its relocation to Richmond), in later years the city would serve as a backdrop for several advances in the civil rights movement, among them the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Selma to Montgomery marches. Be sure to visit to the Rosa Parks Museum. Information: www.visitingmont-gomery.com.
The museum is on the campus of Troy University at the corner of Montgomery and Moulton where Parks was arrested in 1955. Its 7,000 square feet include interactive multimedia, as well as a replica of a 1950s-era Montgomery city bus that highlights Park’s experience. Information: 252 Montgomery St.; 334-241-8615; www.troy.edu/rosa-parks-museum/montgomery-rosa-parks-museum.html.
Where to stay:
• Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa: This four-star hotel includes fine dining, a fitness and recreation center and a total of 345 rooms — 50 of those are considered “premium” in case you’re in the mood to live extra large. Information: 201 Tallapoosa St.; 334-481-5000; www.marriott.com
• Red Bluff Cottage: Victorian-inspired B&B includes breakfast, dinner and an amazing view of central Montgomery. Information: 551 Clay St.; 334-264-0056; www.redbluffcottage.com
Where to dine:
• Michael’s Table: This eclectic blend of soul and comfort food with a modern twist from chef Michael Hochalter is open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. It has captured numerous accolades for menu and ambiance, including a Top Fine Dining Experience nod from Alabama Magazine. Information: 2960-A Zelda Place; 334-272-2500; www.michaelstable.net.
• Dreamland BBQ: The legendary Dreamland Cafe opened in 1958 helmed by John “Big Daddy” Bishop. Inside you’ll find a bar, dining booths, a pot bellied stove and kind-to-your-wallet plates, sandwiches, desserts and more. Information: 101 Tallappoosa St.; 334-273-7427; www.dreamlandbbq.com.
Originally it was known as a tobacco and textile town — but these days it’s setting its sights on computer and nanotechnology. Much of the center city’s early 20th century architecture remains intact, and there are multiple dining establishments and entertainment venues throughout the area. For a look at significant civil rights history, the International Civil Rights Center & Museum is a visit not to be missed. Information: www.visitgreensboronc.com.
The museum was originally a storefront for F.W. Woolworth Company. It also was the site of the Greensboro lunch-counter sit-in of Feb. 1, 1960, when four students, in an act of nonviolent civil protest, requested to be served like white patrons. The building remains intact, and the lunch counter is exactly as it was more than 50 years ago. The museum has nearly 20 permanent displays, as well as changing exhibits. It’s an emotionally moving step back in time. Information: 134 S. Elm St.; 336-274-9199; www.sitinmovement.org.
Where to stay:
• The Biltmore Greensboro Hotel: Built in 1903, over the years the building served as office space, apartments and then finally, a hotel. Restored in classic detail in the 1990s, the Biltmore Greensboro came under new management as of 2007. It is the only historic boutique hotel in center city Greensboro and offers a chance to experience period high-end accommodations like no other in the southeast. Information: 111 W. Washington St.; 336-272-2474; www.thebiltmoregreensboro.com.
• Dailey Renewal Retreat: This Queen Anne Victorian home was built in 1914 and offers comfortable and affordable accommodations in close proximity to UNCG, the Greensboro Coliseum and the center city business and entertainment district. Information: 808 Northridge St.; 336-451-7742; www.daileyrenewalretreat.net.
Where to dine:
• Liberty Oak Restaurant & Bar: Upscale dining and a full bar for lunch, brunch and dinner. The menu includes soups, appetizers, rainbow trout, beef tenderloin and vegetarian selections. Information: 100 W. Washington St.; 336-273-7057; www.libertyoakrestaurant.com.
• Emma Key’s Flat Top Grill: Known for its affordable and irresistible beef burgers served with a wide variety of toppings, it also offers fish and vegan options. Information: 2206 Walker Ave.; 336-285-9429; www.emmakeys.com.
Founded in 1871, Birmingham grew so rapidly from a small town to a booming manufacturing center, it adopted the nickname “The Magic City.” It boasts a metro population of 1 million-plus and an economy that focuses on medical research, banking and the service industry. With hundreds of restaurants and a multitude of theaters, museums and sports activities available, it’s an entertaining and educational getaway. Referred to by many as the “Cradle of the Civil Rights Movement,” Birmingham is home to the 16th Street Baptist Church, which is recognized as one of the key sites in the struggle for African-American Civil Rights. Information: www.birminghamal.org.
Constructed at its current location in 1911, the 16th Street Baptist Church was originally founded in 1873 as The First Colored Baptist Church of Birmingham. It is significant in the civil rights movement for a number of reasons, including its key function as a rallying point for movement leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., and the tragic bombing that occurred there on Sept. 15, 1963, which killed four young girls. Designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2006, it continues to hold services and offer tours for visitors. Information: 1530 Sixth Ave. North; 205-251-9402; www.16thstreetbaptist.org.
Where to stay:
• Cobb Lane Bed & Breakfast: Replete with crystal chandeliers, fine china and legendary southern hospitality, this beautifully decorated Victorian-style bed and breakfast is near Birmingham’s Historic Five Points area, the downtown financial district and the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Information: 1309 19th St. South; 205-918-9090; www.cobblanebandb.com.
• The Hotel Highland: Located in Five Points South and close to the University of Alabama-Birmingham, this is touted as the city’s premiere luxury boutique hotel . It includes 63 distinctive guest quarters with Brazilian bed linens and handcrafted furnishings. It was voted Birmingham’s top hotel in “Birmingham’s 2011 Best of the Best.” Information: 1023 20th St. South; 205-933-9555; www.thehotelhighland.com.
Where to dine:
• Highlands Bar and Grill: Cited as one of the best restaurants in America by the James Beard Association, Opinionated Dining, tripadvisor.com and others, fans of fine dining have flocked here for French-inspired American cuisine since 1982. Information: 2011 11th Ave S.; 205-939-1400; highlandsbarandgrill.com.
• Saw’s BBQ: Lauded by locals and websites like Yelp and Urbanspoon as the place to go for barbecue with heaping helpings at a budget price, it is legendary for its mouth-watering ribs, chicken and pulled pork. It’s a bit off the beaten path but well worth the drive. Information: 1008 Oxmoor Rd., Homewood; 205-879-1937; www.sawsbbq.com
Perhaps known best for its mix of blues, barbecue and Elvis Presley, Memphis is also the site of King’s death. On April 4, 1968, the iconic civil rights leader was slain on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. Information: www.memphistravel.com.
The former Lorraine Motel has been converted into the National Civil Rights Museum. With building additions and restoration to the motel, the site houses multiple permanent interactive exhibits and takes visitors on a tour through the room King stayed in at the time of his death. Ongoing updates to the facility are currently prohibiting full tours of the Lorraine, however, a special balcony tour to the scene where King once stood will be available until work is completed in the first quarter of 2014. Information: 450 Mulberry St.; 901-521-9699; www.civilrightsmuseum.org.
Where to stay:
• The Peabody Hotel: This sumptuous hotel was built in 1869 and is known around the globe for its daily march of mallard ducks to and from the hotel’s fountain. With 464 guest rooms and 11 stories, it also offers pet-friendly rooms and such modern amenities as a day spa, art galleries and more. Information: 149 Union Ave.; 901-529-4000; www.peabodymemphis.com.
• The Roulhac Mansion: Recently added to the National Registry of Historic Places, the mansion — built in 1914 — boasts six breathtakingly beautiful rooms and includes a dining area, living room, hearth room and full-size kitchen. Information: 810 E. McLemore Ave.; 901-775-1665; www.roulhacmansion.com.
Where to dine:
• Chez Philippe: If you’re staying at the Peabody, don’t pass up the opportunity to experience the classical French cuisine of executive chef Andreas Kisler. Dinner and afternoon tea are available Wednesday through Saturday. Information: 149 Union Ave.; 901-529-4188.; www.peabodymemphis.com.
• Soul Fish Cafe: Popular local favorite offers big servings of tasty comfort food like fried seafood, smoked chicken and a variety of fresh vegetables. Information: 862 S. Cooper St.; 901-725-0722; www.soulfishcafe.com.